UN chief ‘deeply troubled’ by reports Israel using AI to identify Gaza targets

IDF has denied claims it’s using artificial intelligence to identify terrorists, select targets; says programs only assist human analysts

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, at the foreign ministry headquarters in the Egypt's New Administrative Capital, March 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, at the foreign ministry headquarters in the Egypt's New Administrative Capital, March 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday expressed serious concern over reports that Israel was using artificial intelligence to identify targets in Gaza.

According to a report in the magazine +972, Israel has used AI to identify targets in Gaza — in some cases with as little as 20 seconds of human oversight.

Guterres said that he was “deeply troubled by reports that the Israeli military’s bombing campaign includes artificial intelligence as a tool in the identification of targets, particularly in densely populated residential areas, resulting in a high level of civilian casualties.”

“No part of life and death decisions which impact entire families should be delegated to the cold calculation of algorithms,” he said.

The +972 report claims that “the Israeli army has marked tens of thousands of Gazans as suspects for assassination, using an AI targeting system with little human oversight and a permissive policy for casualties.”

The report said that, according to “six Israeli intelligence officers,” a system dubbed Lavender had “played a central role in the unprecedented bombing of Palestinians, especially during the early stages of the war.”

“According to the sources, its influence on the military’s operations was such that they essentially treated the outputs of the AI machine ‘as if it were a human decision’,” +972 reported.

Palestinians check debris of a building in the aftermath of an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 10, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Two sources said that “the army also decided during the first weeks of the war that, for every junior Hamas operative that Lavender marked, it was permissible to kill up to 15 or 20 civilians.”

If “the target was a senior Hamas official… the army on several occasions authorized the killing of more than 100 civilians,” it added.

The Israeli army on Friday rejected the claims.

“The IDF does not use an artificial intelligence system that identifies terrorist operatives or tries to predict whether a person is a terrorist,” it said.

Instead, it has a “database whose purpose is to cross-reference intelligence sources… on the military operatives of terrorist organizations” to be used as a tool for analysts, it added.

“The IDF does not carry out strikes when the expected collateral damage from the strike is excessive,” it said, using a term that includes civilian casualties.

The Gaza war erupted with Palestinian terror group Hamas carrying out an unprecedented attack against Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking another 253 hostages, half of whom are still held.

Since the start of the war, more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. These figures can not be verified and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Israel says it has killed more than 13,000 gunmen in Gaza and another 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. More than 250 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

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